Rob Ford and Stephen Harper are about as different as two politicians can be, but the one thing they have in common is an uncanny ability to brush off scandals before they stick. Harper entered the 2011 election facing a “controversy of the day” – from Bev Oda’s orange juice, to Bruce Carson’s fraud charges, to Jason Kenney’s use of government resources to target “very ethnic” voters, to “in and out”, to a historic contempt of parliament vote. What did all that get Harper? A majority government.
If I tried to list all of Rob Ford’s blowups here I’d run out of virtual ink, but despite being one of the most controversial politicians in Canadian history, his approval rating stood at 49% just last month.
However, this past week we’ve seen holes form in both Ford and Harper’s teflon and, in both cases, they have no one but themselves to blame.
It’s been nearly a week since claims surfaced of a Rob Ford crack video, yet the Mayor has refused to respond, beyond calling the allegations “ridiculous” and blaming it on a Toronto Star witch hunt. He’s cancelled his weekly radio show and has dodged reporters, to the point where even the Toronto Sun has joined the witch hunt, demanding he clear the air.
In Ottawa, Harper has been equally evasive when it comes to Nigel Wright’s $90,000 gift to Senator Mike Duffy, letting his enforcers take questions in the House before fleeing to Peru. In his lone public speech on the topic, Harper refused to admit anything wrong had happened, painted himself as the victim. More troublingly, he did not offer any sort of compelling explanation or solution.
Both Harper and Ford appear content to plug their ears and hope these latest scandals gently fade away, like so many scandals have before. However, by failing to offer any sort of consistent or coherent explanation as to what happened, the public has been left to assume the worst.
We’ve been reminded this week that an 8-point lead in the dying days of an election campaign is about as safe as a 2-goal lead in the final 90 seconds of a playoff hockey game. Never take anything for granted.
Despite leading by between 2 to 9 points in every poll fielded over the past week, Adrian Dix managed to snatch defeat from the jaws of victory. It was a stunning result that no one saw coming – even though the exact same thing happened just one year ago in Alberta. In that campaign, Allison Redford trailled by 2 to 10 points in every poll, but still crushed Danielle Smith’s Wildrose Alliance on election night.
This has, of course, set off another round of polling post-mortems. I blogged about six possible polling error after the Alberta Surprise, and the issues are largely the same in British Columbia. So rather than rehash each point I want to look at the big picture.
We can quibble about things like question wording and ordering, but the largest problem cuts to the very core of the science of sampling – simply, polls are not truly drawn from a random sample of voters. I have no doubt if everyone was forced to vote and everyone was forced to answer the phone when pollsters came a calling, we’d see results within the margin of error. But that’s simply not the case, even though we pretend it is.
Indeed, only half of British Columbians bothered to vote yesterday. Admitedly, it’s difficult to figure out who is really going to vote in a world where 80% of people intend to…but then don’t bother showing up because they get distracted…or tied up a work…or because the weather sucks…or because the weather’s too nice to spend voting. There are ways to minimize this source of error, but it doesn’t appear polling companies made any effort to screen out unlikely voters or to gauge how solid support levels were. If they did, it wasn’t reported in the methodology, which is another problem in and of itself.
Moreover, there were warning signs the NDP was destined to lose the turnout game. Both Ipsos and Angus Reid showed the NDP and Liberals neck-and-neck among older voters, with the NDP up by 20-30 points among the under 35 crowd – a group notorious for their loud music, baggy pants, and low voter turnout rates.
The other side of the equation is that, sadly, not everyone is forced to respond to pollsters when the phone rings during Survivor. If you’re willing to spend the money, you can get a respectable response rate via traditional phone surveys, but all polls published during the BC campaign used either robocalls or online pannels.
Both of those methodologies have inherent problems. You often need to make 50 to 100 robo calls to find one sap willing to complete the survey. So we know Adrian Dix is popular with shut-ins, but extrapolating beyond that is risky. Moreover, since robocalls can only ask 5 simple questions before respondents drop off, you rarely have the opportunity to collect enough demographic information to judge how representative the sample is.
You can get those demographics using online panels, but while a national panel will have hundreds of thousands of Canadians on it, you’re fishing from a much smaller pool when you get down to the provincial level. You can always try to correct for demographic biases via weighting, but this can lead to a whole new set of problems. And it’s almost impossible to correct for attitudinal biases. The bottom line is that if you don’t have a large enough sample from Vancouver Island on your panel, you’re not going to get good data from Vancouver Island. It’ll be the same hundred people answering every survey.
Still, when different methodologies in different provinces keep missing the mark in the same direction, it feels like there’s something larger at play here. While the Clark and Redford miracles stand out, Jean Charest exceeded public polling numbers in 2012, as did Stephen Harper in 2011.
In all cases, voters had the opportunity to turf long-time and largely unpopular governments – then chickened out on change at the last minute. If an increasingly disengaged electorate truly is making up its mind more and more in the dying days (or hours) of the campaign, then a horse race poll is never going to predict the outcome spot on.
But maybe that’s not the end of the world. After all, superficial media polls are not designed to provide anything deeper than cheap entertainment. And where’s the fun in cheap entertainment, if the chance for a last-minute comeback doesn’t exist?
Onion Conservative Party reacts to their by-election defeat moral victory:
As we know, majority governments do not usually win by-elections.
In fact, Liberals have won the riding of Labrador in every election in history except for two, so we are not surprised with these results.
What is surprising is the collapse of the Liberal support during this by-election. When this by-election was called the Liberals had a 43-point lead in the polls. Since electing Justin Trudeau as leader and having him personally campaign there, they have dropped 20 points in Labrador. That’s a significant drop in only a few weeks. Labradorians were able to see firsthand how Justin Trudeau is in over his head.
I’m not sure if Tom Mulcair has what it takes to be PM, but he’d make a fine Mr. Manager:
NDP leader Tom Mulcair was wondering where $3.1 billion in unaccounted anti-terrorism spending went when he uttered this gem:
“So the question is, is the money just in the wrong filing cabinet, is it hidden in the minister’s gazebo, is the money in the banana stand?”
We found out last week that the Harper Conservatives will be leading a review of the way Canadian history is taught in schools. We don’t yet have word on whether this review will include teaching students that education is a provincial responsibility under the constitution, but I have been able to procure a leaked curriculum draft, which I have posted below.
Canadian History: Recommended Course Outline
Unit 1: The Conservative Party Founds Canada (19th Century)
Key Date: 1871 – In an act of state coercion, the first ever Census is administered.
Key Date: 1885 – The Canadian Pacific Railway is completed, an engineering marvel which would not have been possible with a carbon tax.
Class Discussion: It’s important to show students both sides of the Riel uprising. To do this, encourage a classroom debate, where half the students argue that Riel is a traitor, and the other half argue that Wilfrid Laurier is the larger traitor for defending him.
Mandatory Viewing: Students can learn about turn-of-the-Century Canada by watching this educational episode of Murdoch Mysteries.
Unit 2: Robert Borden Wins World War I (1900s and 1910s)
Strike from Curriculum: Borden’s 1917 government, composed of Liberals and Conservatives, should under no circumstances be referred to as a “coalition” government. Instead, refer to it as “an enhanced Conservative Government”.
Creative Writing Assignment: Have students draft an “alternate history” where Wilfrid Laurier is Prime Minister during the War, leading to a German victory.
Mandatory Reading: Stephen Harper’s Hockey Book
Unit 3: Mackenzie King Causes the Great Depression (1920s to 1940s)
Class Discussion: To see both sides of the issue, have students debate if King’s policies in the 1920s led to the depression, or if his policies in the 1930s worsened it.
Strike from Curriculum: 1932 – RB Bennett creates the CBC.
Unit 4: The Rise of Diefenbaker (1950s and 1960s)
Key Date: 1967 – The Beatles release “with a little help from my friends”, a song which would be popularized 42 years later by Stephen Harper and Yo Yo Ma (have students watch video and compliment the Prime Minister on his performance).
Strike from Curriculum: 1957 – Lester B. Pearson wins Nobel Peace Prize (if you must mention this, be sure to talk about other Canadian accomplishments of the 1950s, such as PC leader John Bracken being voted one of Manitoba’s 10 Sexiest politicians in 1951).
Interactive Exercise: Imagine it’s 1953, and write a fundraising letter to Conservative Party members viciously attacking Louis St. Laurent. For bonus marks, film an attack ad.
Unit 5: The Joe Clark Era (1970s and 1980s)
Key Date: 1979 – A nerdy Albertan defeated his far handsomer opponent, Pierre Trudeau. (See if students can find modern day parallels to this)
Class Discussion: Discuss how Ken Dryden nearly cost Canada the 1972 Summit Series. Set up a debate between students on the topic “Which was worse – Dryden’s 83.8% save percentage during the Summit Series, or his push to destroy the family unit through National Childcare?“
Unit 6: Modern Day (1990s to Present)
Key Date: 2006 – Canada’s New Government cuts the GST from 7% to 6%.
Key Date: 2008 – Canada’s New Government cuts the GST from 6% to 5%.
Interactive Exercise: Have students dress as their favourite character from the Sponsorship Scandal and hand each other brown paper envelopes full of Monopoly money.
Suggested Term Paper Topics
I watched bits of the BC Leaders debate last night, mainly out of curiosity to learn about soon-to-be Premier Adrian Dix and see the man in action. I wasn’t overly impressed, but I don’t think the BC NDP need an overly impressive leader to win what looks to be essentially a slam dunk election.
But this post isn’t about Dix or Clark, or what to expect when British Columbians vote on May 14th. No, this post is to share one of the most amazing political commercials ever with you. Enjoy.
When the Conservatives launched attack ads against Stephane Dion in January 2007, it took the Liberal Party three months to respond. Never again, they vowed. Next time we’ll fight back!
Just Visiting first aired in May 2009, yet we didn’t see a rebuttal until Labour Day .
So the first thing you need to know about the new Justin Trudeau ads, released today, is that the Liberal Party has learned its lesson (and all it took was the near destruction of the party!). In politics, you must define or be defined, and those who let themselves be defined wind up leading guest lectures rather than governments.
The form this counter-punch has taken is to briefly address the attacks then, quite literally, change the channel to Justin’s more positive message. It’s exactly what I called for last week – use the attack ads as a foil to further define Trudeau as the positive and optimistic candidate. Trudeau promised “hope and hard work” in his showcase speech, and this ad is right on message.
The classroom setting is a nice touch given the Tory ads attacked him for being “just a teacher”. I know it’s a very minor detail, but I dig the math on the blackboard, if only because it subtly makes the viewer think “serious math teacher” rather than “drama teacher who enjoys taking his clothes off”. Similarly, gently reminding Canadians that he’s a father projects a certain level of maturity. Like I said – define, or be defined.
If I wanted to walk from Math class to Biology, we could further dissect every line and detail of the ads but, at this stage, the important thing is that the Liberals responded and they responded on message. That may not sound like a lot, but for a party that failed to do this the last two times out, that’s a huge win.
One of the reasons I keep blogging is that the comments section here tends to breed meaningful discussion rather than the “no you’re Hitler” type of debate you see on most mainstream news sites. And as pointed out here, I found this comment by regular hosertohoosier quite thought provoking:
Or was the Justin quote trying to attract those Canadians who say that nobody would blow anyone up if we all sang Kum-Ba-Yah a couple more times?
Kumbaya is actually a great counter-terrorism strategy, and Canada is living proof. The best evidence suggests that terrorists do not join terrorist organizations to serve the cause. Indeed, terrorism rarely succeeds, terrorist groups often have shifting motives (how many times has al Qaeda’s mission changed), and terrorists rarely express a strong understanding of the larger organization’s goals.
Rather, they tend to join in search of community. The best predictor is that they have a friend or relative in an organization. This is why diaspora communities may be particularly likely to produce terrorists.
Canadian multiculturalism is our greatest weapon in the fight against terror. It has given us the most satisfied immigrant communities in the world (based on survey data). Not only does that combat alienation, it also means that even among the circles from which terrorists are likely to spring, Canada has friends (and can infiltrate those networks easily).
What was the key to catching the 6/6/6 terrorists? Tips to the RCMP from members of the community.
I’ll admit to not thinking a lot about counter-terrorism except when Homeland is on or when horrible things happen in the world. So this was a comment that got me thinking.
And, wouldn’t you know it? Just a day or two later, we find out that the terrorists hoping to derail a Via train were apprehended, largely thanks to tips from the community and a local imam.
Score one for Kumbaya Counter-Terrorism.